Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's Monday-- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished This Week:

The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig (review coming soon). It was fabulous and now I'm wishing I didn't have to wait so long for her next book! Is it January 2012 yet? 

Currently Reading:
Reading Jackie by William Kuhn and Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle, the first selection for the 2011 Faith and Fiction roundtable. Also getting back into Jane Eyre after a little hiatus!

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Defense of the Sentimental

The Wall Street Journal ran a lovely article last Saturday on the enduring popularity of Maud Hart Lovelace's books from the 1940s and 50s, which have recently been re-released by Harper Perennial. I never read the books as a child, but this article and reviews by other bloggers has made me want to read them now. It also makes me long for more YA literature that doesn't contain vampires, mean girls, abusive parents, adolescent sex or other topics that seem currently to be popular. I know that young adults are not immune from troubles and that realistic and gritty books have an important role. But there's also something to be said for not exposing children and teens to weighty issues before their time. While Lovelace's novels might seem sentimental, Alexandra Mullen says that "one of the pleasures of reading Lovelace's work, in fact, is witnessing the many varieties of happy families and seeing in particular the kindness of fathers."

"Lovelace's books show people discovering how to be good, but the books themselves are not goody-goody or preachy. They focus on everyday matters, from playing with paper dolls to keeping a diary to feasting on midnight sandwiches in the kitchen with high-school friends. Within such activities, Lovelace reminds us, we learn a great deal about the ways of the world and the governing of our hearts." 

Did you read Lovelace's books when you were younger? Do you plan to read them now?

You can read the full article from the Wall Street Journal here.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's Monday- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Didn't Finish:
The Bolter by Frances Osborne. I started this biography of Idina Sackville interested in finding out what would compel a woman in WWI-era England to leave her children and husband and consequently remarry six times, but it began to feel like just a repetition of what she did each day. That's normally my problem with reading biographies! I might come back to this when I have the time and energy to really dig in.

Currently Reading:
I told myself I would wait to read it until after I finished some of the library books I have out, but the brand new copy of Lauren Willig's latest The Orchid Affair was tempting me too much! I'm also into Reading Jackie, by William Kuhn, about her time as an editor and the books she selected.

Up Next:
Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle, the first for the 2011 Faith and Fiction roundtable. You can join in the conversation about it on February 26.

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011 Faith and Fiction Roundtable!

I'm excited to be participating in the 2011 Faith and Fiction Roundtable over at My Friend Amy's blog. We're a diverse group of bloggers who will be reading five fiction books and one non-fiction book and discussing their major themes and topics. If you'd like to read along and join in the discussion on Saturdays, our reading list and discussion schedule is here. And be sure to click here to meet the awesome other participants!

- Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle
   discussion: February 26
- What Good is God?  by Philip Yancey
   discussion: April 30
- A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
   discussion: June 11
- Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
   discussion: August 13
- Passage to India by E.M. Forster
   discussion: September 24
- Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
   discussion: November 12

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman

Zan-Gah, seeking his lost twin brother in a savage prehistoric world, encounters adventure, suffering, conflict, captivity, and final victory. In three years hero passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a position of leadership among his people. The prehistoric saga continues in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country... in this story, Zan's troubled twin brother, Dael, having suffered greatly during his earlier captivity, receives a ruinous new shock when his wife suddenly dies. His obsession is the destruction of the wasp men, his first captors, who dwell in the Beautiful Country. When he, Zan-Gah, and a band of adventurers trek to their bountiful home, they find that all of the wasp people have died in war or of disease. The Beautiful Country is empty for the taking, and Zan's people, the Ba-Coro, decide to migrate and resettle there. (summaries from goodreads)

I liked that Shickman's writing was intelligent and not dumbed down or gimmicky like a lot of current YA novels seem to be. Instead it uses a mix of action and multi-dimensional characters to pull the reader in. When Zan and the other members of the tribe are preparing to trap a lioness in the first novel, you can feel the ratcheting up of tension as the drums beat and the animal circles the ring of people. In Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, Shickman makes you feel Dael's anguish and the pitch of battle as they fight the Noi warriors. However, sometimes I found the writing awkward, like when he describes the living conditions of the prehistoric humans in the first book:  "Darkness was indeed darker to them then, coldness colder, and the cruelest passions somehow crueler and more deeply passionate." This wordiness sometimes worked against the narrative pull of the story.

As a character, Zan is extremely honorable and heroic and always tries to do the right thing. Boys will enjoy how independent he is and how he manages to take care of himself and his friends, and will dream about killing a lion single-handedly, catching fish with their bare hands or fighting off enemies with a weapon of their own imagining. Zan also is able to deal with serious issues with a wisdom beyond his years, like a brother deeply scarred by the loss of his wife and many years in captivity. I thought it was fascinating to have one of the characters struggling with what would now be diagnosed as PTSD. Dael's trauma added a deeper level to the story than just Zan fighting off animals and competing tribes.

Author Allan Richard Shickman
Rating: Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country: 4 out of 5 stars for both. I would recommend these books to anyone who is looking for intelligent and exciting YA novels for a 10-15 year old boy. The violence is not gratuitous and the action will keep them reading past their bedtime, and it tackles issues like trauma and loss in a thoughtful and age-appropriate way.
Source: I received these novels from Earthshaker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: Framed

I finally got around to watching Framed, one of the Masterpiece Contemporary offerings from the 2010 season, and it is a delight!

Quentin (Trevor Eve) and Angharad ( Eve Myles)
When flooding in London's National Gallery precipitates the transfer of its treasured paintings to safety in an abandoned slate mine in the Welsh countryside, curator Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve), a worshipper of art to the exclusion of people, squires his beloved masterpieces to safety, secretly pleased to have them all to himself. There, he encounters a lineup of quirky inhabitants including the spirited and lovely, if slightly nosy, local schoolteacher, Angharad (Eve Myles), and a 10-year-old boy, Dylan Hughes. In a chain of misunderstandings triggered by a wayward chicken, Quentin mistakes Dylan, whose father has just left the family in the face of financial woes, for an art connoisseur and kindred spirit. But when Dylan, in desperation, plans the art heist of the century with his criminal-mastermind-in-training sister Minnie, the results reveal how these paintings on the move have tremendous power to move people. Framed is based on the bestselling book by Frank Cottrell Boyce (summary from PBS).

Framed is an uplifting story that centers around the small Welsh village of Manod, which secretly sheltered National Gallery paintings during WWII and is called into service again after a flooding at the museum. Quentin Lester arrives from London hoping for a solitary existence with only the paintings for company, but is soon charmed by the local teacher Angharad and the collection of unique locals. There is a nice symmetry between Angharad's high-spirited ways and Quentin's more guarded and cynical persona. She helps him to see that art is not meant to be kept in safe and secure boxes for viewing by a select few, but should be shared and experienced by all. He in turn shows a surprising depth and unexpected kindness towards the townspeople. The scene where Angharad explains to Quentin that Dylan's love of Donatello has more to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than Italian Renaissance painters is so charming and funny. And it's inspiring to see each character make their own art out of the difficult circumstances in their lives, whether it's Marie creating a photo collage of her baby brother or the butcher finding solace and purpose through a Monet painting.

Dylan and Minnie Hughes (Samuel Davies and Mari Ann Bull)
I thought the young actors playing Dylan and Minnie (Samuel Davies and Mari Ann Bull) were fantastic, and able to demonstrate a wide range of emotions, from despair at their father leaving to Minnie's craftiness in hatching a plan to save their struggling garage. Using a knowledge of crime taken exclusively from the movie The Italian Job, she decides to steal a painting from the cave and use it to raise money. Her older brother is just along for the ride until she reveals that her plan didn't extend past the actual theft. Luckily everything works out in the end, for the townspeople, Quentin and Angharad and the Hughes family.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Lively, funny and sweet, Framed is an enjoyable story about the power of art to transform a village and the people in it. I only wish it had a longer running time than 82 minutes so the writers could have devoted more time to each character's story, especially the romance between Quentin and Angharad. Framed is available to watch online here until January 25.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Monday-- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished This Week:

Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman-- review coming soon! I thought they were very intelligent YA novels that 10-15 year old boys will really enjoy.

Currently Reading:

The Bolter by Frances Osborne, about the scandal-filled life of her great-grandmother, Idina Sackville West. So far it is well-written and I am enjoying all the juicy historical details.

Up Next:

Currently I have no clear plan for what's up next, but I did get some books in the mail this week (Barnes and Noble bargain books are my weakness), including The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, Home by my all-time favorite actress Julie Andrews, The Lost City of Z by David Grann and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Friday!

It's finally Friday, and I don't know about you but my brain is ready for a break after a long week at work! I will be daydreaming over these gorgeous pictures of books and bookshelves (and a writing desk I'm coveting).

Jan/Feb 2011

Dec 2010

Dec 2010

Jan/Feb 2011

Dec 2010

All pictures are from Lonny, a free online decorating magazine. Check it out here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My New Guilty Pleasure

 I feel slightly ashamed to be a 23-year-old watching a show on Nickelodeon, but I am hooked on their new series House of Anubis after catching the first episode while flipping channels one day. Set in a British boarding school, the show centers on Nina (Nathalia Ramos), an American who arrives at Anubis House the same day the popular Joy mysteriously leaves--or is taken. The other students living there are suspicious of Nina's coincidental timing and treat her like an outcast, except for Fabian (Brad Kavanagh), and her new roommate Patricia (Jade Ramsey) is determined to investigate Joy's disappearance. Throw in a mysterious Egyptian locket given to Nina by an old woman with a connection to the house, secrets hidden in the attic and teachers who are covering up dark secrets and you get a thoroughly entertaining show that is fun to watch (even if you're not a teenager!)

Nina (Nathalia Ramos)
From L-R: Mara, Alfie, Jerome, Patricia, Nina, Fabian, Amber, Mick and Joy
Fabian (Brad Kavanagh)

You can watch all the episodes of House of Anubis here

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Any Recommendations?

I'm very excited to be taking a trip to Paris and Normandy in a few months and I'd appreciate your recommendations on your favorite books set in France-- whether it's historical fiction, memoir, travelogue, etc. I love to read about and get the feel of a place before I go. Merci beaucoup!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Sissi Trilogy

I recently came across a 1955-57 period drama trilogy that is available to watch instantly on Netflix, called Sissi, Sissi: The Young Empress and Sissi: Fateful Years of the Empress. I'm a sucker for anything historical and the synopsis and cover looked really interesting, so I decided to give the first one a try. Though the tag Foreign should have given it away, I was surprised to realize that the movie was in German (thank goodness English subtitles are included!) However, I was quickly sucked into this very loose retelling of the life of Elisabeth of Bavaria-- called Sissi by family and friends-- who would become Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary in the late 19th century.

In the first movie, we meet Sissi and her family, including her friendly and slightly roguish father Duke Maximilian and her lovable and harried mother Princess Ludovika. Sissi accompanies her mother and older sister Helene, called Nene, to Vienna, where she has a chance meeting with her cousin Franz Josef, the Emperor of Austria. Franz is instantly smitten, not realizing that his domineering mother, the Archduchess Sophie, has already arranged for him to marry Nene. Though Sissi is reluctant to take on the demanding role of empress, she loves Franz and he persuades her that he would be unable to rule without her. The movie ends with their wedding (after Franz basically announces their engagement without her consent) and Sissi becoming Empress of Austria.

Franz and Sissi meet cute on an Austrian mountain
Franz giving roses to Sissi instead of Nene (left)
In the second film, Sissi: The Young Empress, Sissi is homesick for Bavaria and without her husband most of the day due to his state duties. She also is faced with learning the extremely rigid and convoluted court etiquette and the languages of all of Austria's principalities. Her free-spirited ways clash with her aunt/mother-in-law who rules with an iron fist, and her husband is mostly content to follow his mother's orders.When the couple's first child is born and the Archduchess takes over the raising of the child without Sissi's consent, she flees the palace, but is reunited with Franz later after he realizes he's mistaken and comes after her. Her dedication to and support of the Hungarian people leads to the emperor and empress being crowned King and Queen of Hungary at the end of the film.

The Emperor, Empress and Archduchess
The final installment begins with Sissi and her daughter in Hungary, trying to broker peace between Austria and a few remaining Hungarian rebels. When Count Andrassy, a young Hungarian nobleman who has become Sissi's friend and advisor, confesses he's in love with her, she realizes she must leave the country. Meanwhile, back in Vienna, Franz is fending off his mother's not-so-subtle hints that Sissi and Andrassy are having an affair and learning that Nene is still not over him two years after their broken engagement. Luckily Franz begins to grow a backbone in this film and challenge his mother's "duty over love" mentality. Franz and Sissi are reunited, but it soon becomes apparent she is not well, and she travels to Madeira as a last ditch effort to heal from a lung ailment. The movie ends with a dramatic and touching reunion between Sissi and daughter in Venice, where her love and goodness wins over the people of Italy.

Portrait of the real life Sissi by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
If you have a few hours to kill on a rainy afternoon, I would suggest these films as a great option. Are they a little schmaltzy and overdramatic? Definitely. But they're also interesting--though not entirely factual-- period pieces that come complete with stunning images of the Austrian countryside, beautiful costumes and a lovable heroine. Romy Schneider is gorgeous as Sissi (I was extremely envious of her beautiful hair and tiny waistline) and Karlheinz Bohm is an appealing (if sometimes slightly wimpy) hero. The films also made me more interested in the real-life story of Elisabeth, which unfortunately did not end as happily as the film suggests. According to historical reports, the real Sissi had an unhappy and unfaithful marriage and kept herself on a strict diet to maintain a 20 inch waistline, and she also was assassinated by an anarchist in 1898. I think I prefer the movie ending better!

Source: Netflix instant streaming